Dead Until Dawn

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&lsquo;Tis the season of costumes and ornamental gourds on shelves. Just as I can predict the falling of the leaves this October, I can also predict the renting, buying, and these days streaming of slasher movies. The slasher movie is the staple of summer cottage trips, school kids staying up late, and of course, Halloween. It&rsquo;s such a staple that even the parody of the slasher clich&eacute;s are now a bit of a clich&eacute;.&nbsp;</p>

As mentioned in the previous Let’s Play column, there’s a game that borrows the slasher movie formula that’s become a bit of a sleeper hit. Until Dawn is by all means a slasher film in plot and appearance. A group of teenagers are having a party at a cottage. A variety of archetypal characters bantering and bumbling through the adventure. The “teenage sex romp” before the man in the mask shows up to spoil the fun in a gruesome way. A dark mountain, a spooky cabin in a creepy wood, with plenty of dark caves and decrepit buildings.

A little video shows up before the game starts proper, showcasing the game’s core premise: the butterfly effect — the premise that even a small change, like a butterfly’s wings flapping, can have massive consequences, causing a storm elsewhere. 

Choice, then, is the name of the game. It reminds me of leafing through Choose Your Own Adventure books. The primary source of agency for players is what you want a character to do. This is a slasher movie where the director of the events is you, with the outcome dependent on the fateful decisions you make.

Supplementing the simple choices and walking around the environments is a gameplay element gamers call the “QTE” or quick time event. Generally, it’s a segment where you’re suddenly prompted to press a button or aim at a target quickly, and your character will either succeed or fail based on your input. It is the bare minimum of gameplay, but for what is essentially a playable movie, it does keep things interesting.

It’s no Cabin in the Woods or Psycho, but it does its best with its writing. The generic qualities of slasher characters aside, many of them I found to be genuinely likable. Even the “meathead” and “joker” characters of the game had some great moments that really made me like them. The plot twists keeps you guessing at the nature of the true threat in the game. Is it a masked murderer? Is it a ghost? Is it someone faking the whole thing? Is it something truly paranormal?

Part of the fun of a slasher film is that slightly screwed up schadenfreude of a character you don’t like getting their comeuppance. Here, you get to make that choice. You want a slasher film where everyone lives? Totally possible, if you make he right choices. Really don’t like a character? “Accidentally” have them make a bad decision. 

And with the all-too-common trope of a character in a slasher film doing something stupid and obviously getting themselves killed, it’s honestly refreshing to be in control of that trope.  

It’s not perfect — this is not a 10 out of 10 game, and there are some nasty bugs that could kill off a character through no fault of your own. While the butterfly effect does mean that some events do vary a lot from each playthrough, apparently this wasn’t enough to make replaying the game to see the alternate endings worth it by most accounts.

But honestly, you could do far worse than giving this game a go this Halloween, maybe even with some friends. See what you and your friends decide when the slasher movie isn’t something you just riff and comment on, but is something you’re actively participating in.

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